Saturday, April 24, 2010

"Trust us, we have the story all figured out"

Remember 'The Nine' (2006), ABC's short-lived drama series about a hostage situation?

I saw some of it and wasn't impressed. The story was boring and didn't go anywhere.

The show getting cancelled shouldn't have surprised anyone. There was a good reason for that.

Because the premise of the show was that the hostage situation happens in the first episodes, and after that the characters go back to living their normal lives.

That's right. A show where basically nothing happens after the first episodes. Do you think that was going to be interesting television?

I would think that you were going to say 'of course not' and 'epic fail'. But for some reason the network executives bought the idea that it would be a good concept.

The only problem with this was that it couldn't work. You can't have a climax first. That's storytelling 101.

So how could the executives have been so incredibly dumb that they greenlit a doomed show like that?

Well, I happen to know for a fact that when the producers pitched the idea to the executives, they had mapped out ahead like three or four seasons of the show.

What I'm thinking here is that maybe the producers managed to sell the show to the executives based on the idea of "don't worry, as you can see, we have it all figured out".

Even when the whole concept made no sense at all.

Now, fast forward to this season. ABC brings us a show with another stupid premise, called 'Flash Forward'. The premise is that the characters see into their future and then go back to living their normal lives.


I've heard that in this case too the producers showed the executives very detailed plans about where the series was about to go.

For your information, Flash Forward is not going anywhere. It simply sucks.

I just can't help but remember the good old days when we had shows like X-Files. Speaking of that show, do you think that Chris Carter knew exactly where X-Files was about to go when he pitched it to the Fox executives?

The wikipedia tells us that he didn't. Fortunately he had a great idea and he didn't have to camouflage it with those detailed one hundred episode outlines.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Big Bang Theory's disappointing third season.

Well, I'm not saying that the third season of The Big Bang Theory hasn't had anything good in it.

I did like the tattoo sleeves. Wil Wheaton was a good addition. Bernadette was pretty funny too and I liked Leonard's mom. But other than that, I have been very disappointed.

Top-10 reasons for The Big Bang Theory not delivering this season:

1) The pairing of Leonard and Penny.

I don't think there's that much to debate about this. Of all the characters on the show, Leonard and Penny have the least amount of chemistry. The pairing hasn't added anything to the show. They aren't funny or interesting together. So why are they still supposed to be a couple after this season?

2) Too much one-dimensional Sheldon.

Sheldon was a pretty reliable source of comedy in both season one and two. His character seemed believable. In season three, after Jim Parsons got the Emmy nomination, the storylines started to get too much about him. Unfortunately Sheldon turned into a cartoon character.

3) Characters are less likable.

Sheldon, Raj, Howard and even Penny became less likable than they used to be. Just pick any given episode and see for yourself. What's worse is that Leonard is now a whining douchebag and yet he is supposed to be our 'hero'.

4) It's not an ensemble show anymore.

The Big Bang Theory is supposed to be written like Frasier and Everybody loves Raymond. We have an amazing cast and interesting characters. So why won't the writers utilize them together?

5) The premise changed.

The show is supposed to be about men vs. women and geeks vs. normal people. After Penny and Leonard became a couple, I have been asking myself, what is this show about?

6) 'The smart is the new sexy' is missing.

Is there anything on season three to prove that these guys are actually smart? Do they come up with solutions to anything? (Mars rover & space toilet in season two)

7) Badly structured episodes.

There are plenty of examples that could be mentioned, but the absolutely worst has to be in the Stan Lee episode where Sheldon goes to jail and gets released in less than a minute. (Episode 3x16)

8) Lazy writing with the jokes.

Not that I value 'jokes' in any way, but before the third season began, I thought that if they ever resort to using a helium joke on the show.. ..well, we already got the helium joke (3x09).

9) They changed Stuart to protect Leonard.

He was confident and cool in season two. After the producers saw how Leonard and Penny didn't work at all, they decided to 'fix' the problem by making Stuart pathetic, so that Leonard wouldn't look that bad.

10) Dropping Leslie Winkle from the show.

The writers said that they didn't know what to do with Sara Gilbert's character. I thought she was very good at making Sheldon more believable as a character. When she left, Sheldon kinda left too.

Still four episodes to go. I won't quit watching, though.

I'm going to let Chuck Lorre disappoint me the way he intended.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Amazing Race: best reality show ever!

Let's count the reasons why The Amazing Race rules:
1. The Drama on the show is natural and not contrived.
2. The tasks are interesting.
3. Almost all the contestants are relatable.
4. You always root for at least one team.
5. The sightseeing.
6. We get to see different cultures.
7. We get to know new people.
8. Your whole family can watch it together.
9. Travelocity gnomes make me happy.
10. And Phil Keoghan's eyebrow is just amazing.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Strong women and quality sitcoms.

I recently thought about how important roles female characters have played lately in sitcoms.

I thought about this because for some reason we don't really have strong women in quality sitcoms anymore.

The only exception, I think, is Tina Fey as Liz Lemon on 30 Rock. Other than that, it's not good to be a sitcom actress nowadays.

Ten years ago, things were quite different. We had among others:
Roz Doyle and Daphne Moon in Frasier.
Ally (and the rest) in Ally Mcbeal.
Debra and Marie in Everybody Loves Raymond.
Rachel, Phoebe and Monica in Friends.
Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte in Sex and The City.

That's a pretty almighty list. Can you believe that Peri Gilpin as Roz Doyle was never even nominated for an Emmy? Today she would be a slam dunk for a win.

Last year it got so bad in the supporting actress category that Amy Poehler and Kristen Wiig were nominated for Saturday Night Live - a sketch show. I mean, how much worse can it get than that?

In my opinion, not having well written female characters on sitcoms reflects pretty accurately how the quality of sitcoms in general has deteriorated lately.

The reality is that when you don't have characters like Marge Simpson, you don't have shows like The Simpsons either.

So, if I were thinking about developing a new sitcom, I would probably start with the female characters.

I would think that this is how a show like Modern Family was actually conceived.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Talent or hard work?

How many times have you heard the saying "success is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration"?

Sounds inspiring, doesn't it? And I guess, to some degree, I agree with that.

Because when you write scripts, you have to be patient. That means that your ideas won't usually come up without effort. You have to actively search for them. And you can't give up too easily.

So, yeah, I think I can live with that statement. (originally by the inventor Thomas Edison)

But how about this: "talent is overrated","talent is mostly a myth", and even "there is no such thing as talent".

Were Larry Gelbart, John Hughes and David E. Kelley only "working hard" when they wrote scripts in one or two days?

I don't think so. These guys were super talented (Kelley still is) and "hard work" didn't have that much to do with it. They worked hard because they had talent, not because they were compensating for the lack of their God given abilities.

For some reason in today's society people seem to be actively downplaying the importance of talent. "If you only work really hard, you might be able to make it..." (everybody's equal)

Let's face it. That's mostly a myth. Talent does matter. More than most of us are willing to admit.

But then again - for those who are disappointed about talent actually counting - just look at this guy.

Maybe you can make it too!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Ten characters in a sitcom is simply too much.

The critics are saying that "Modern Family" is the best sitcom on tv right now. Critics say that It's better than 30 Rock or The Big Bang Theory.

Now, I have watched maybe like seven or eight episodes and I have found the show to be occasionally funny. I especially liked the second episode "the Bicycle thief".

The problem I have with Modern Family is that when you have ten characters and a twenty-one minute show, it's not possible to cram them all into every single episode and then expect it to miraculously work and make sense.

It's rather weird to watch episodes where you have three storylines and at least one of them has only two beats: the beginning and the end. The middle of the storyline, however, is missing. (at least this is how it seems to me when I watch the show)

That's not good, but it's exactly what happens when you try too hard or haven't figured things out yet. Too many characters in one episode - it really bothers me when storylines are half baked at best.

Also, to be honest I'm not exactly a fan of the faux-documentary style that they use on the show. In my opinion the interviews just pull you out of the story (I  absolutely loathed interviews on The Office too),

But I don't know. Maybe the producers on the show will learn from their mistakes and season two will be better. In my opinion, it's not (at least yet) the best sitcom on tv.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

When storytelling goes bad: Part III

Why was the British version of The Kitchen Nightmares so good and the U.S remake on Fox so bad?

I guess the Fox executives thought that having a compelling story about a struggling restaurant and the restaurant owner simply wasn't enough.

Have you seen the original series?

All I can say is that sometimes less is indeed more.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Celebrity Apprentice: 3rd time is the charm?

There's nothing more surprising than seeing people you thought were utter douchebags turn out to be decent and down to earth human beings.

Yes, I'm talking about Bret Michaels on Celebrity Apprentice.

I knew him from that 80s rock band that I hadn't ever listened to. He also had that stupid Rock of Love show on VH1 or wherever it was. Yes, and there was also that sex tape too.

Honestly, him being a good guy, I didn't see that coming at all.

Just goes to show how easily we judge people in our everyday lives.

But anyway, I'm personally rooting for him, Bill Goldberg, Curtis Stone and Maria Kanellis. (I had no idea she was so smart too)

I just hope that this season the producers and The Donald are smarter and give everyone an equal chance of winning.

Last season was a complete travesty, when Trump fired Tom "I cannot believe he's a good guy" Green and kept Dennis Rodman, even though 1) he was drunk 2) didn't even show up at the task and 3) wanted to leave the show.

The producers should pay attention to the old adage "give people what they want, not what they expect". We are tired of the 'ratings!, ratings!' trainwrecks.

It pays off to have likable people on tv.

That's why a "boring" show like The Biggest Loser is a hit too.

When storytelling goes bad: Part II

Ah, Glee, the new hit show on Fox.

This high school musical dramedy recently won best comedy/musical Golden Globe and was just awarded a Peabody.

It's supposedly the frontrunner at the Emmys. I would guess that you haven't watched it. I did check it out to see whether it could be spec worthy.

Well, it's not.

I really am not that demanding when it comes to entertainment, but sometimes even yours truly has to draw the line somewhere. Glee is one of those shows.

Minute seventeen in the pilot: the main character, a choir leader, has bought drugs from a dealer.

I didn't like where this was going, but I still decided to give it a fair chance.

Anyways, he then wants to recruit one of the sports guys to his choir.

Okay, I guess.

But he does this by accusing the jock student (innocent) of being a drug dealer and that he will send him to jail if he doesn't join the choir.


All I can say that if this passes as entertainment, then I don't want to be entertained. I had to give up after three episodes.

Cruel is the new cool.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Where did David E. Kelley go?

If you ask me, my biggest personal hero happens to be this guy who in 1999 took home Emmys for both Best Comedy Series (Ally McBeal) and Best Drama (The Practice).

Those were the days. There was nothing better than watching an episode of Ally Mcbeal and then the next evening you got a fresh new episode of The Practice. I really, really miss both shows and all those moments of enlightenment.

A quick fact: David has won 10 Emmy awards, but it's already been 10 years since his last win. So what happened, Youstinka?

Anyways, David has a new pilot in the works called 'Kindreds'. I don't know what to think of it. Is this going to be another 'Legally Mad' that doesn't get picked up? We'll see.

When storytelling goes bad: Part I

I just watched most of Season One of 'Mad Men', the AMC series that has been hailed by critics as a work of genius.

It took me a long while to actually consider watching it, because I didn't find 'the premise' of the show to be interesting at all. I couldn't see what the buzz might be about. It didn't make any sense to me.

So I watched it, and didn't like it.

That 'Mad Men' turned out to be a pretty bad viewing experience for me didn't come as that big of a surprise. Because as you should know, when critics fall in love with a show, there's always a good chance that the show itself isn't really that good.

Unfortunately, this is exactly the case with 'Mad Men'. The critics once again took the bait. They 'love' the show. The audience, however doesn't care. You and me, the general folks, do not watch the show. Because it's not good.

So what's wrong with the show? The answers to that can be found from looking at the basic requirements of a "good" show.

1)What is the premise and the theme of the show? Is this a show about a family? Is this a show about the people at the agency? Is it about the times and lives in the 60s? Is it about the actual substance of their work?

If you like the show, you probably say that, yes! It's about all of those. But that's not a premise. A premise is something like "Jack Bauer has been framed in an assassination attempt against the President". What is the premise in Mad Men?

And how about the theme? A theme should be something like "life is absurd, but it makes more sense than we think" รก la Picket Fences. Mad Men doesn't have a recognizable theme either. That's a bad sign too.

2)Who and what are the characters? There's been plenty of hoohaa about how the characters on the show are more defined than on other drama shows. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. We don't know most of the characters at all. They are not fully fleshed out, they are cardboard cut-outs and fresh from stock. That's bad too.

3)Where is the drama? I couldn't find drama anywhere. The ad men are basically never in trouble. They never have big problems with their clients. Yes, I know you might say that there were some problems and that Pete Campbell 'saves' the guys by coming up with his own ideas. But in general, there's no real trouble. A real problem means something like "if we don't get this client, we're done". So there's no drama coming from there.

Of the characters, excluding Campbell, nobody is in trouble either. Just because Betty Draper is troubled does not mean that she is in trouble itself. There's a difference. And if anything at all happens, it's always resolved in less than twenty minutes. That's not compelling.

4)Who is Don "the lead" Draper? This is a big no-no on the show. We have no clue who Don Draper really is. You never know what he is going to do next. We have no idea how he is going to react to any given situations on the show. It's all a guessing game. Because the writers in all likelihood do not know who he is. They only know how he dresses and how he combs his hair. (back and to the left, back and to the left)

5)The focus on the show. Easily the biggest problem. Is there a lead? Who are the supporting characters? Who are the token nobodies? This is why the show is such a mess. People come and go. Supporting characters get suddenly individual scenes, even though we might know nothing about them. Somehow they suddenly lead the show. That cannot be good storytelling.

The most bizarre moment that I managed to see on the show really illuminates how bad Mad Men can get. Because there's a sequence in the fourth episode (the firing and reinstating of junior), where Don Draper's character goes in ten minutes from a lead to supporting character and then to an extra. That is simply wrong and bad television.

That is not quality writing.

It's also pretty disturbing how the writers on the show write these 'fake' endings. For example when Betty crashes the car and is sent to a psychiatrist by Don. The ending of the episode is when Don calls the psychiatrist and asks how Betty did in the session. I think the writers were hinting that there's some kind of a patient/doctor confidentiality that they were breaking. Well, obviously there wasn't, but they tried to nevertheless sell that angle.

Also it's rather cheap when we see a pregnant woman taking a glass of wine. Shocking - and then we go to like End Credits. Not really interesting, in my opinion. But basically that's the way they roll.

I'm not saying that 'Mad Men' is the worst show on tv. It has great production values and Vincent Kartheiser and Elisabeth Moss are doing great acting in it. It's just that almost everywhere else the show is a failure.

The fact that the show looks good doesn't mean that it's actually good. Because it's not.

And Yes, I did get the nuances. Seriously, I did.